Say the words “performance appraisal” to a work colleague and you’ll most likely get a sigh, or worse - an eye roll. After all, the annual appraisal is a dreaded event. The decision has already been made and the meeting is more of an announcement, rather than a conversation.
With remote work, distributed teams, and hybrid work becoming the norm, the annual review is turning out to be even more ineffective and demotivating. A year is a long time. Even the star employees or managers may struggle to remember their employees’ performance over a period of 12 months.
So what really ends up happening in the end? Employees get frustrated that their past achievements have been lost or forgotten. Managers, on the other hand, struggle with having to remember a year’s worth of effort for each team member.
To make this a more seamless process, here are four key points to keep in mind when having appraisal meetings:
- Appraisals are a bad time to give feedback.
- Career conversations have to take place separately.
- Keep things simple.
- Remember to document everything.
Let’s discuss these in further detail.
1. Appraisals are a bad time to give feedback
Don’t: Use the meeting as an opportunity to give feedback.
Do: Have a short, to-the-point discussion about compensation.
Neuroscience research studies indicate that conversations around compensation can evoke a primal “fight or flight” response among employees. While the employee is gearing up to have this emotional conversation, talking about feedback, whether positive or negative, might just make everything worse. There is a lot at stake for the employee. If, at this point, the appraisal you are giving is not something they would be happy with, then having a feedback conversation will hardly make them feel any better. Conversely, if you end up increasing their raise or promoting them, it sets a precedent and the whole appraisal meeting becomes pointless.
Conversations about feedback should have happened long before the appraisal meeting. In this case, it would be useful to have continuous feedback and regular check-ins. You could also introduce tools that allow teammates to share constructive feedback and praise good work. This feedback can then be tied into the main review so that both the manager and the employee have clear reminders of everything that has taken place in the previous year.
2. Career conversations have to take place separately
Don’t: Wait for the annual appraisal to discuss career growth.
Do: Have coaching conversations throughout the year.
Most employees think that the appraisal meeting is the ideal time to have career conversations. This is not true. Waiting around for a year to talk about career plans seems like a missed opportunity to have informal mentoring discussions outside of the HR process. In fact, these conversations can be had at defining moments such as when someone is considering a job move (either externally or internally) or when they’re starting a new role.
It might even be useful to have a career conversation a couple of months after the appraisal talk. In this meeting, the manager can:
- Check-in on the employee and get a sense of their growth expectations.
- Help them see their strengths and weaknesses, and chart a career progression path action plan.
- Clarify any doubts about developmental opportunities at the company and how to get there before the next appraisal cycle begins.
Once this conversation takes place, the manager can follow up, say in 4-6 months time, which still leaves another 4 months before the next appraisal!
3. Keep things simple
Don’t: Complicate the appraisal process by having multiple forms to fill in.
Do: Use a simple feedback method that allows you to have a big picture view of strengths and goals.
The performance management process doesn’t have to feel like a chore. It hardly makes sense to have a mega-form full of questions that details every aspect of performance. And then filling the form with glossy charts of performance reviews, objective weighing, and competencies. Not only are forms like these a time sink for every manager and employee, they are also a barrier to having multiple feedback loops. Who wants to keep filling in these forms every few months?
When it comes to performance management, less is more. At Mesh, we have intuitive, pre-populated appraisal forms based on the feedback you receive throughout the year. These forms also offer real-time views on goals and strengths. If you use this, you avoid the filling in of multiple documents before your review!
4. Remember to document everything
Don’t: Give a subjective account of an individual’s performance through the year.
Do: Have specific, clear, and detailed documentation to back the appraisal.
It can be tempting to rush through the appraisal process to get it done with.
The manager might end up giving a vague summary of a person’s work through the year. In the process, the employee might face recency bias and not really connect the dots on the salary change and their actual performance.
It’s useful for both managers and employees to document work done throughout the year, in the flow of work. That way, if you’re an employee, and your perspective is different from that of your manager’s, you have data to back up your side of the story. The same reasoning applies to managers as well.
The gist of it all is that the appraisal conversation ought to be short and sweet. Something along the lines of, “Here is your salary hike. Congratulations, you deserve this! We want to thank you for your stellar work this year. Looking forward to another year of doing awesome things together.”
Avoid springing up any surprises about feedback and career conversations during the meeting. If needed, you can schedule a separate meeting to discuss the next steps, have coaching conversations, and so on.
In case you’re wondering what to do when an employee is a poor performer, here’s another way to think about it. It’s better to have continuous feedback talks throughout the year rather than waiting until the moment of appraisal. Remember, appraisals are neither punishments, nor rewards. They’re simply a fair adjustment on an employee’s compensation based on their performance and the value they bring to the company.
Just like you don’t wait until the appraisal to give back, remember to also reward your employees regularly, in the course of their work. Reward doesn’t mean salary increases and promotions - it is a type of feedback that is ongoing and timely.
P.S.: If your company needs a smart software that allows you to have effective performance appraisals, please get in touch, and we'll discuss why ours is the best.